How do I save my rubber tree plant?

(Question)

I had a rubber tree plant near me at work for about five years. A lady came in to water it and clean its leaves periodically. I love this plant! No matter where they moved it, it always slowly grew itself around corners to get some sunlight. When they moved us to the other side of the building to reconstruct our area, I assumed they’d take care of the plants. I was wrong. Months later, I came back and found the plants neglected, covered in construction dust, most of their leaves gone.

I brought the rubber tree plant home with me and repotted it. When I took it out of its old pot, I discovered that it was completely detached from its root ball.

I repotted it anyway and put it outside where it can get regular rain and partial sun in the mornings — and it has been declining pretty rapidly. It only has a couple of leaves left, and most of its stems seem dry and brittle.

Is there anything I can do to save it? It’s like an old friend.

Thanks!

(Answer)

Dear gardener,

I know how you feel. My houseplants are part of our everyday lives and it seems so sad to see them unwell.

Rubber plant (Ficus elastica) is a tropical plant from the ornamental fig family, and as such it needs warm temperatures and appropriate light to thrive. Although it likes the soil to dry out between watering, it sounds that this poor plant was not watered for a long time, stressing it, hence the loss of leaves.

The construction dust covering the plant also interfered with the photosysthesis process, adding more stress to the leaves left attached.

You did the correct thing repotting it; however, you mentioned you left it outside which worries me as, if you are located in Toronto (zone 6), the temperatures outside are too cold at the moment for this tropical and will just exposed it to frost and kill it. If you are in warmer climates, make sure the temperature outside is at a min of 55F (13C); be also careful with sudden cold draughts as these can also provoke leaves to drop. Water the plant normally with tepid water but make sure not to overwater it and place it in a location with few hours of sunshine in the morning.

I am afraid this is all you can do; at least you can have the satisfaction that you tried your best.

Wishing you good luck.